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By Carol B. Wittmeyer, Ed.D.
o you love Upstate New York as
much as I do? Are you also worried
about our future?
For decades, we have hoped that various
economic development strategies would
help our prosperity. For example, yearly we
invest millions in people, organizations and
programs -- such as Economic Develop-
ment Zones -- to attract new businesses
and assist existing ones. These have had
mixed results.
We talk about ways to prevent the brain
drain. Yet each spring, we sit through com-
mencements all over our region to watch
more of our graduates collect their diplomas
and leave our region to pursue their dreams.
Our universities and donors continue to
invest in entrepreneurship centers, incuba-
tors and sexy business plan competitions
that we hope will identify the next Steve
Jobs in WNY.
Most recently funded is Gov. Andrew
Cuomo's New York Means Business Initia-
tive. It will be interesting to see how his
plan aids existing firms, already entrenched
and committed to Upstate New York.
It has been exciting to see promising busi-
nesses' results, particularly in the medical
arena. We need more. Statistically, our stu-
dents have a better chance of hitting the
lottery than being awarded the kind of ven-
ture capital needed to boost our economy.
Are there other strategies we should be
pursuing? Yes. I believe there is one: Sup-
porting our students who will be share-
holders of family-controlled firms.
Our research suggests that most firms
around the globe -- large and small -- are
family-controlled. Take Rochester, N.Y.,
for example, home to many highly re-
spected firms that have weathered and
thrived in all economic conditions.
We have learned through our research
that family firms try to be the last enter-
prises to lay
off their em-
whom they
consider ex-
tended fam-
ily members.
that's not as
as creating
new jobs.)
Family firms invest in our com-
munities by giving back. Directly
and indirectly, they are the largest
source of philanthropy. With this
in mind, it would appear that
alongside venture capital and eco-
nomic development zone initia-
tives, Rochester could benefit from
a family business initiative.
At St. Bonaventure, nearly one-
third of students have parents who
own a business. Peer institu-
tions measuring this have
found similar results.
St. Bonaventure alumni
and parents own several
Rochester-based multi-gener-
ational family firms. Many of them
work together and provide a syn-
ergy and optimism for our econ-
omy that is unparalleled.
These alumni are helping us build
a family business program to help
our students identify and evaluate
their opportunities. Students tour
their firms -- sometimes literally
next door to each other such as
Abrasive Tool and Thru-way
Spring. Students meet the family
owners and hear stories they appre-
ciate and gain confidence knowing
they have a committed and talented
network available to them.
On campus, we bring in alumni
such as Ellicott Development's Carl
Paladino, '68, to tell their stories
and answer students' questions.
We have introduced interdiscipli-
nary courses and seminars on fam-
ily business such as "Family
Dynamics in Family Firms" and
"Internet Marketing to Grow Your
Family Business." Students have
internship opportunities at other
family firms. Students have created
a Family Business Club -- one of
about a dozen in the nation --
open to any student on campus.
St. Bonaventure students who are
in WNY family businesses, the
"next generation" stakeholders, are
humble, young adults who rarely
share their situation with anyone
but close peers. Many have started
out working at the bottom of their
family enterprises and come to our
universities with a lifetime of busi-
ness experience that goes unno-
ticed. The decisions they need to
make about their future can be un-
nerving. They need our help.
One student said it best: "If I go
into the family business, my
biggest concern is to keep the busi-
ness growing. So much effort has
been put in by my father and uncle
that I want to help the company
become more successful and not
just plateau. I do not want to tar-
nish the good name that my dad
and uncle have created."
We're trying to do our part to
help WNY family business succes-
sors continue the good name their
families have created.
We need your help: Let's take
some of the millions we invest in
economic development and use it
to invest in those young men and
women on all of our campuses
who are working hard to gain the
networks, skills and confidence to
stay and grow the businesses their
families have created in Rochester.
Are you in?
(Carol B. Wittmeyer is an associ-
ate professor of management sci-
ence at St. Bonaventure. This
column appeared in the Feb. 8,
2013, edition of Rochester Busi-
ness Journal.)
Family firms invest in our communities;
it's time for New York state to invest in them
We're trying to do our part to help WNY
family business successors continue the
good name their families have created.